haruki zaemon

#management

High-performing teams: An evidence review: Scientific summary

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. Jun 9, 2023
  3. 3 mins

I can’t recall how I came across this paper from the “Center for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa).”

I found it engrossing, even though it was quite long, especially for something itself described as a summary.

Naturally, there’s a whole lot of nuance and context I haven’t captured, so I highly recommend reading the original:

Most researchers summarise a team’s basic defining characteristics as: a group of employees who are:

  1. formally established
  2. assigned (some) autonomy
  3. interdependent

[…]

Most studies included consider team effectiveness as synonymous with team performance. As such, team effectiveness is broadly defined as task performance, contextual performance, and/or adaptive performance (eg learning, creativity, decision-making).

[…]

This review identified a large number of high-quality studies that indicate that effective teams are not so much determined by their composition, but rather by the emergence of socio-affective (in particular trust, psychological safety and social cohesion) and cognitive states (in particular cognitive consensus, information-sharing and the transactive memory system).

Some thoroughly unsurprising findings:

  • Intra-team trust is positively related to performance.
  • Group-level psychological safety has a moderate to large positive impact on team performance.
  • Team cohesion has a moderate to large impact on team performance.
  • The emergence of intra-team trust and social cohesion is critical for virtual teams.
  • Team cohesion is strongly associated with team inclusion.
  • Team identification has a positive effect on social cohesion and consequently team performance.
  • Turnover has a negative effect on social cohesion and consequently on team performance.
  • Team cognition – in particular information-sharing, transactive memory systems and cognitive consensus – has a large positive impact on team performance.
  • Team learning does not automatically lead to team performance improvement.
  • Team reflexivity moderates the effect of team cognition on team performance.
  • Teamwork training has a large positive effect on team performance.
  • Debriefing sessions and guided team reflexivity have a moderate to large positive effect on team performance.
  • Setting group goals that are challenging (in terms of difficulty) and specific (rather than non-specific ‘do your best’ goals) has a moderate to large positive effect on team performance.

Some moderately surprising findings:

  • The link between team effectiveness and team diversity dimensions such as age, gender, ethnicity, religion, functional background, educational background, organisational tenure and experience is small and sometimes negative.
  • Of the Big Five personality traits, only agreeableness and conscientiousness are (somewhat) positively related to team performance. Other personality traits, such as emotional stability, extraversion and openness to experience, were not related with team performance.

One hard-to-swallow finding was around team building. I’ve never felt team building exercises were of much value, but the science is against me:

A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies shows that, in general, teambuilding interventions have a moderate positive indirect effect on team performance, and a moderate to large positive direct effect on trust, social cohesion and internal communication.

Turns out, I’ve never really experienced the necessary conditions:

Results indicate that the effect of teambuilding is larger when:

  • the initiator is external (rather than internal) to the team
  • the rationale is corrective (rather than preventive)
  • team members are not involved in the planning
  • the focus is on both the team’s goals and interpersonal relations
  • team building is planned together with other interventions
  • team building is led by both internal and external consultants
  • the focus is on the group (rather than on individuals)
  • team building is supported by (higher) management

Modelling required

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 28, 2023
  3. 3 mins

How can we expect people who’ve never seen what good looks like to perform to their potential? It’s up to leaders to role model the behaviours we expect–and in my experience people crave it.

People with experience might not even realise they need to explicitly role model. Perhaps they’ve internalised what good looks like and think “surely it’s obvious?!” Even when they realise they need to role model, doing so might not come naturally, and a bit of coaching is in order.

I first heard about Andy Molinsky’s 5 psychological barriers to pushing outside our comfort zone via Leisa Molloy. I think at least 4 apply:

  • Authenticity - When we feel like we’re performing, it can feel fake, foreign, and false–“This isn’t who I am!”
  • Competence - In addition to feeling inauthentic, we might also feel like we’re not doing a good job–“They’re going to realise I’m an imposter!”
  • Resentment - This usually manifests as frustration or annoyance at the very fact that we have to do this in the first place–“These people should know this already. They’re paid as much if not more than I am. Why am I always the one to have to drive things?!” or “I’m a parent at home. I just want to come to work and deliver, not parent work colleagues as well.”
  • Likeability - In this case, we might worry that people will stop liking us for being a version of ourselves they are unfamiliar with–“I’m usually the quiet one. They might think I’m ego-centric and that I’m trying to prove how good I am.”

(For the record, my two biggest challenges are always Authenticity and Resentment with Competence running a close third.)

In my 20’s, I had a friend who was a student at the Australian Ballet School. I would go and watch them practice regularly. For hours on end they would go over the same moves, the same techniques, the same routines.

One day I went to a performance. Even though they were students, they made it seem so natural–the graceful movements, the interaction between the characters, the sets, the costumes, … Afterwards, I met my friend at the backstage door. As they came out to greet me I was taken aback. They had yet to remove their makeup and it was, to be blunt, hideous! It had never occurred to me that making dancers’ appearance realistic to the audience required makeup that was over the top.

Inside your own head, explicit role modelling can seem a bit like wearing stage makeup–unnatural and inauthentic; to the audience, it seems natural and authentic–because it is!

Deliberately growing and developing people requires role modelling, and role modelling takes practice, vulnerability, and pushing outside your comfort zone.


Has Cynicism Infected Your Organization?

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 28, 2023
  3. 3 mins

(via Warren)

Don’t presume that someone we perceive as cynical is inherently so:

Workplace cynicism isn’t due to some sort of character flaw or being a “glass-half-empty” person. It originates from the workplace environment, not the individual. Many experts, in fact, see workplace cynicism and depersonalization as a form of defensive coping: Becoming distant and withdrawn is a self-protective measure that places a buffer between an employee and the emotional exhaustion and energy depletion their job is causing. Even relentless optimists’ protective measures can be broken down when they’re exposed to high degrees of stress, especially when that stress continues unabated.

Along with “energy depletion or exhaustion,” and “the feeling that you’re no longer able to perform at your best,” cynicism towards your job is considered one of the three core attributes of burnout:

Workplace cynicism, may be the least-understood aspect of burnout in part because of its complexity. In contrast to exhaustion and diminished efficacy, whose causes and effects are relatively straightforward, cynicism can be caused by a number of workplace factors, and it can be expressed in a broad range of emotional states and behaviors.

Even though cynicism can spread quickly between people and teams, there are things we can do to prevent it infecting the organisation:

  • Have the self-awareness to monitor [your] own emotions and behaviors, and the self-regulation to project the positive emotions and behaviors [you]’d like to see in others.
  • Explore what’s driving this behavior [in others] — deep, empathetic listening can often assuage cynical feelings.
  • Create an environment of empathy at work by getting to know your employees, welcoming their perspectives, and listening to their input. Don’t ignore or put off their concerns — act on them.
  • Promote an environment of psychological safety where employees feel free to speak honestly about their feelings and ideas and to make mistakes without fear of shame or repercussion.
  • No one likes to feel left in the dark, especially when it comes to decisions that affect them, so share impactful decisions with employees and maintain open lines of communication.
  • Where possible, offer flexible work schedules and arrangements. Encourage employees to contribute ideas and help set direction, and give them ownership over their deliverables.
  • Make sure your mission as well as your team and individual mandates are clear and achievable, and let employees know what they can expect from you, too.

We can even use the idea that cynicism is an “emotional contagion” against it:

One of the best things about emotional contagion is that it works both ways, so it’s just as easy to spread feelings of empathy, trust, appreciation, and genuine idealism.

As an aside, I think we can fall into the trap of labelling worry, anxiety, and the act of tackling reality head on as cynicism, when sometimes it might be poor communication skills. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines cynicism as:

cynicism | ˈsɪnɪsɪz(ə)m | noun [mass noun]

  • an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest; scepticism.
  • an inclination to question whether something will happen or whether it is worthwhile; pessimism.

Extract the kernel | Irrational Exuberance

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 28, 2023
  3. 1 min

Will Larson:

The most frequent issue I see is when a literal communicator insists on engaging in the details with a less literal executive. I call the remedy, “extracting the kernel.”

[…]

The CTO’s point is almost always not about [the specific details]. Instead, their point is that [e.g.] the timeline feels too slow. If the team anchors on responding to the specific suggestion, they’ll miss the more important discussion entirely. Even if they convince the CTO that [their idea] is the better choice, the CTO will be annoyed that their real concern about the schedule wasn’t addressed.

[…]

You’ll make much more progress by focusing on improving how you communicate with them than by blaming them for their deficiencies.

[…]

When you get a question from an executive, focus on understanding the insight or perspective within the question. Then confirm that insight with the executive explicitly.

[…]

Ensure that the CTO’s feedback is addressed rather than getting caught up on the incidental details in their question.


Responsibility laundering

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 27, 2023
  3. 2 mins

Another great term I hadn’t heard of before, via the always interesting FLUX Review, Ep. 101:

What can organizations do in the face of challenging decisions, especially when the result may be unpleasant or unpopular? One popular approach is to insert a mechanism that makes the decision for them. This responsibility laundering is an abstraction layer that shifts the perceived responsibility for the decision from a person to a process.

Responsibility laundering is not always a bad thing: it can reduce some kinds of biases. Without it, decisions are likely to devolve into mere patronage.

Some examples of responsibility laundering include:

  • Data-driven decision making.
  • Committee-driven promotion and hiring decisions.
  • Formula-driven compensation.
  • Feedback surveys.
  • Goal setting processes such as OKRs.

[…]

One telltale sign [we’re not using it properly] is when responsibility laundering is used to wash our hands of the consequences: “I regret this outcome, but we followed the process…”

Look out for bias hidden within the process. If we are not examining the process critically, we might not notice when things are just a bit off.

[…]

  • Ask when responsibility laundering is the right choice.
  • Monitor the outcomes for signs of bias.
  • Make it possible (and preferably easy) to switch or remove these processes.
  • Take responsibility for the decisions that ultimately get made.

7 Ways to Meet the Need to Feel Seen, Heard, and Understood - Leadership Freak

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 26, 2023
  3. 1 min

For me at least, a timely reminder with helpful examples.

Observations:

  • You feel motivated when you feel seen.
  • You tend to disengage when you feel unheard.
  • You’re anxious or angry when you feel misunderstood.
  • You engage when you feel you matter.

Advice:

  • Practice vulnerability. Declare development goals.
  • Discuss progress. Let people know how you’re doing.
  • Provide clear expectations.
  • Recognize strengths publicly. Everyone on the team needs to know the top five strengths of everyone on the team.
  • Learn to listen. You can listen without committing to do everything people say.
  • Thank people for contributing.
  • Accept the human condition. Everyone has weaknesses, even you.
  • Practice empathy.
  • Affirm people’s energy.

How to be a great leader? Don't make decisions for others - ColoradoBiz Magazine

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 23, 2023
  3. 1 min

The instinct to manage people causes us to solve their problems and make decisions for them. Blakeman urges us to instead:

train others to solve and decide, and then get out of the way. Leaders who figure out they shouldn’t make decisions can lead wildly successful companies devoid of command-and-control management.

When we make decisions for others long enough, we eventually erode their sense of purpose, agency, and motivation:

Ownership is the most powerful motivator in business, and the ability to make decisions is at the core of ownership. Stop solving and deciding for others. They are adults. They can do it themselves, and better than you could. Instead, ask questions, train others to make great decisions, and then get out of the way and let them do it.

We all need to make decisions; we don’t need to make all the decisions:

The art of leadership is to know how few decisions the leader needs to make.

Give people their brains back. Stop managing (making decisions). Start leading.


Motivating change

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 20, 2023
  3. 3 mins

As managers and leaders, driving and supporting change is a critical part of the role. When we go about making change, we can inadvertently subvert the process and slow things down. Worse, we run the risk of losing the trust and confidence of the very people we need to enact not just the current, but future change as well.

The hard work is rarely the change itself. The hard work is developing the trust and understanding to make the change in the first place.

When most of us experience what we perceive as resistance to change, our initial response will be to lean into what Adam Grant calls Preacher mode–“they don’t understood how right I am!” If that fails, we’ll become a Prosector–“I’ll show them how wrong they are!” If things get out of hand, and we realise that we’re “losing” the “argument”, we might turn into a Politician–“maybe I need them to like me more?!” If none of that works, we become frustrated, judgemental, angry, and start to blame, at which point we might withdraw and find someone else who is more “willing” to help.

I know this because it was exactly how the majority of my interactions used to go.

What many people perceive as resistance to change is actually discord: between the therapist and the client; between the coach and the player; between the manager and the report; between the executive and the company. When you’re trying to evoke change in someone and you feel they aren’t responding, stop pushing for change and get back to strengthening the relationship before trying again.

Research also shows that self-efficacy is a significant predictor of change success, and that what we perceive as resistance, may actually be ambivalence. People who have been a part of failed change in the past have mixed feelings about their ability to enact change in the future. This experience of failure leads to a lack of confidence in the themselves and the system. When planning change, ensure people feel empowered, have agency, know what good looks like, and understand what might be holding them back from playing a part in their own journey.

Relying on a few “willing” people to drive change and “tell others what to do” may seem like a fast track, but it can be frustrating, exhausting, risky, and unlikely to generate long term improvement.

Scaling change through others requires effort to empower and give people agency. It requires engaging and listening and taking into consideration that you might be “wrong,” and that even when you’re “right,” that you took the action you did after considering their perspectives.

Most people want to improve, know that improvement requires change, and want to take an active part in it. Engage with them early and often, be explicit about what is known, and what is still to be worked through, and help them understand for themselves how to use their own skills to drive the change you want to see.

UPDATE: Catching up on my reading and unsurprisingly, Ray Grasso recently posted on a similar topic. Go check it out.


Alignment gets expensive. Don’t skimp on it. – Jessitron

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 19, 2023
  3. 2 mins

(via Ray Grasso)

In a recent post I talked about my personal experience with the effort and discomfort required to lead people and teams. Creating alignment can feel inefficient.

I especially appreciate Jessica’s distinction between alignment and collaboration. I value collaboration over (not instead of) individual contribution, and the nuance here is not that collaboration is bad, rather “We can’t collaborate with everyone, so it’s alignment that can give us the trigger and authority to communicate when we need to.”

Jessica Kerr:

How can we do our work well, together, as we get bigger?

  1. Accept coordination overhead. Document shared plans in a shared place (we use Asana). Coordination is for asynchronous work, and we can do a lot of the coordination asynchronously too.
  2. Collaboration is expensive. Replace it with coordination when you can, by decoupling. When you need collaboration, go all in. Get people in the same room if that’s a thing, or talking every day in Slack & Zoom. Build relationships to make communication smooth. Read Team Topologies.
  3. Do not skimp on alignment.

Alignment is not expensive, compared to collaboration. But it feels disposable, it’s easy to let slip. Alignment comes from leadership in our all-hands and all-teams meetings. It comes in 1:1s with our managers, and between our managers. It comes in documented company values and positions.

Alignment gives us the context to make good decisions in our scope. It also lets us question decisions outside our scope, constructively, because we can notice when we learn something inconsistent with our expectations. That catches discrepancies early, and gets us back on track together.

In a small enough company, alignment is mostly free. It happens in conversation, and via collaboration. As our company grows, our founders are more and more deliberate about reproducing it.


Discomfort required

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 15, 2023
  3. 1 min

Leading people is uncomfortable and requires overriding the urge to “fix” everything and everyone.

The instinct to avoid failure (rather than seek success), and the pressure to deliver, cause people to optimise for efficiency over effectiveness. Except, the efficiency is an illusion–you will always have to pay back the debt (people, time, resources) you borrowed to get to whatever outcome you thought you could achieve faster.

If the thing you care most about is perfectly executing, then telling people what to do, and in what order is fine. Except, only a handful of people will learn from the experience, and you’ll need to continue with the command and control approach on the next thing. That doesn’t scale.

Leadership requires constantly communicating intent. Leadership requires constantly seeking to understand. Leadership requires constantly bringing people back into alignment. Leadership requires scaling through others by giving them agency. Leadership requires empowering and supporting people to try, fail, and learn.

(via Harold Jarche):

In the book Range, David Epstein states that, “learning is most efficient in the long run when it is inefficient in the short run” […] There is no Red Pill.

Leadership takes a lot of effort and feels inefficient.


How to Motivate Employees When Their Priorities Have Changed

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 12, 2023
  3. 2 mins

The article centres on the push to get people back into an office, but I think the general themes are more broadly applicable:

Get into a conversation with a company leader these days, and you’ll likely hear some version of “no one wants to work hard anymore.” I see my C-suite clients grasping for more control to get back to “normal” by pushing for longer hours in the office, tightening metrics, and hoping that economic headwinds will return their power.

[…]

Inspired people make inspired workers make inspired companies. Is it better to have a productive worker who leaves early to train for a marathon or a burned-out worker who’s strapped to their desk? How do you judge the person who declines a promotion because they love their job exactly as it is? Let’s not punish people who have an updated model of success that works for them.

[…]

For most of us coming up, there was a predictable cadence to professional work. You grind it out early, give up large parts of your life, and eventually gain some control over your time. Yes, you had to do it, but was it really the best way to get the best work? I know when I was working seven days a week until 11 P.M., I was not a fount of creativity. Every new shift in work necessitates an end to an existing norm. Instead of bringing people down to your experience, consider how you can bring everyone up to a new one.

[…]

People wasted a lot of time in the office right under your nose, and if they want to waste time, they’ll do it anywhere. You’re far better off measuring performance and losing the fixation with time. The more latitude managers can give in creating the right working environment for the individual, the less guilty everyone will feel and, thus, the more they can focus on doing good work.

[…]

When we sense control slipping, we tend to want to micromanage people and processes. Recessionary pressures exacerbate this effect. Fear has never been an effective motivator over the long term. Worrying about job preservation causes people to hunker down, not take risks toward excellence.



Employees Are Losing Patience with Change Initiatives

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 10, 2023
  3. 1 min

This is something I’ve been hearing more from folks across multiple companies:

Relentless sprinting means many employees are running on fumes.

The most common mistake when it comes to change management today is trying to build momentum for transformation by hitting the accelerator. A 2022 Gartner survey found that 75% of organizations are adopting a top-down approach to change, where leaders set the change strategy, create detailed implementation roadmaps, and deploy a high volume of change communications. Their goal is for workers to buy into the new path and for managers to lead the charge as champions and role models for their teams.

[…]

Prioritized change means leaders show employees where to invest their energy by communicating their backlog of priorities, including change initiatives. Without such guidance, employees are likely to give 110% for each change, resulting in a blowout.

[…]

Many leadership teams already rank the most important organizational projects and initiatives, but that knowledge often isn’t shared beyond leadership team discussions. Communicating this more broadly can help teams more effectively manage their energy and efforts.


Schelling traps

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 7, 2023
  3. 2 mins

I had not heard of the term until today—which seems extraordinary given a large part of my career has been dealing with the kinds of problems caused by exactly this. It’s incentives; always incentives!

The FLUX Review, Ep. 96:

Schelling points are the default solutions that people arrive at if they can’t communicate. The prisoner’s dilemma is an example of a Schelling trap, where the lack of communication means that individuals are incentivized to betray each other even though they’d be better off if they both stayed silent.

Breaking free requires a mutual and simultaneous deviation from the status quo. If we break out but others do not, then we’ll be less effective than they are.

As the size of an organization grows and its structure becomes more complicated, the complexity of communication, coordination, and incentives increases. This leads to the emergence of whatever default is expedient.

a company that maintains redundant, uncommunicative, and siloed departments working on similar projects. Each department thinks their work is unique and vital. They are unaware of the duplicative or misaligned work from the other departments.

Breaking free from this Schelling trap requires a coordinated effort from higher-level management. However, higher-level management may itself be caught in its own Schelling traps, leaving the organization unresponsive to the inefficiency.

It’s tempting to believe that at a sufficiently senior level of management these problems can be easily solved.


4 Types of Employee Complaints — and How to Respond

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 4, 2023
  3. 1 min

It’s important to develop a strategy to listen to and act on complaints, harness their benefits, and mitigate their destructive potential. When employees believe their manager doesn’t care about, minimizes, or ignores valid concerns, it can increase stress, decrease engagement, and ignite turnover.

“Telling employees to ‘put a lid’ on [their] feelings is both ineffective and destructive; the emotions will just come out later in counterproductive ways.”

Start with interest and curiosity, consider the intention.

Encourage and help facilitate constructive complaints.


Evo AU #98 – Scaling A Development Team

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. May 2, 2023
  3. 1 min

It was lovely to meet and chat with such a great bunch of open, curious, and pragmatic leaders:

We discussed challenges, approaches, mistakes, and lessons we’ve learnt scaling teams.

Mostly though, I just enjoyed the conversation. It didn’t necessarily always stay on topic, in a good way.



Psychological Safety: Feedback

  1. by Simon Harris
  2. Mar 26, 2023
  3. 1 min

Well delivered feedback drives improvement, whilst poorly delivered feedback decreases performance and can cause real damage, sometimes lasting for years afterwards.

Good feedback is: Well intentioned; Non-trivial; Truthful; Consensual; Actionable; Timely; Specific; Private; Delivered from your perspective, not that of others; A two-way conversation; Focused; About behaviours and performance, not personalities or style; Combined with positive encouragement.